Watch our first interview with summer signing Malakai Fekitoa as the centre settles into life at Munster.
Born and raised in Ha’apai, Tonga, Fekitoa moved to Auckland as a teenager after earning a scholarship at Wesley College thanks to his performances for the Tonga Sevens age-grade sides.
He made his All Blacks debut in 2014 and helped the Highlanders to their first-ever Super Rugby title the following year.
Malakai featured in New Zealand’s successful 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign and scored eight tries in 24 appearances for the All Blacks between 2014 and 2017.
Fekitoa departed the Highlanders for Toulon in 2017 and spent two seasons in France before joining Wasps, where he has spent the past three years.
On the international front, he now represents his native Tonga and has lined out for the senior side and the sevens team.
Images & Content from Munster Rugby
Aki Banned For Eight Weeks
Aki will be unavailable for the westerners’ next five URC games, including the derby clashes with Munster and Leinster, and will also miss at least the first two of Ireland’s Autumn Nations Series fixtures.
He will definitely be absent for the Tests against South Africa and Fiji, but could return to face Australia on Saturday, November 19 if he ‘successfully completes the Head Contact Process Coaching Intervention programme’.
After an act of foul play against Stormers winger Seabelo Senatla, referee Gianluca Gnecchi showed Aki a red card in the 60th minute of the game under law 9.20(a).
The particular law states that a player must not charge into a ruck or maul. Charging includes any contact made without binding onto another player in the ruck or maul.
In his responses to the judicial officer overseeing the disciplinary process (Pamela Woodman from Scotland), Aki had accepted that he had committed an act of foul play which warranted a red card.
She determined that his actions towards Senatla were reckless and took into account, among other things, the speed, force and high degree of danger in his actions.
Ms. Woodman determined that, had it been based on this conduct alone, the offending would have been categorised as mid-range on the scale of seriousness.
However, she also considered Aki’s actions and demeanour towards the referee in connection with the issue of the red card, which she found did not meet the expected standards of conduct or respect.
This was also taken into account (in accordance with URC’s disciplinary rules) in determining that his offending was at the top-end on the scale of seriousness, which warranted an entry point sanction of 10 weeks.
The judicial officer then considered if there were any mitigating factors and found that Aki’s acceptance that he had committed an act of foul play (during the off-field disciplinary process), expression of remorse, apologies to both the opposing player and referee, and willingness to engage with his provincial coaching staff on a plan to address this issue, were relevant mitigating factors.
These mitigating factors warranted a reduction in the sanction of four weeks.
Aki’s previous suspensions for red cards in 2019 and 2021 for foul play involving head contact, as well as his suspension and warning for previous conduct relating to interactions with referees, were considered aggravating factors, which the judicial officer decided warranted a further two weeks of sanction.
As a result, the Ireland international will be suspended for a period of eight weeks. As previously stated, should he complete the Coaching Intervention programme then the sanction will be reduced by one week.
Fixtures Bundee Aki is unavailable for:
Vodacom Bulls v Connacht, September 30, BKT URC
Connacht v Munster, October 7, BKT URC
Connacht v Leinster, October 14, BKT URC
Connacht v Scarlets, October 21, BKT URC
Ospreys v Connacht, October 29, BKT URC
Ireland v South Africa, November 5, Autumn Nations Series
Ireland v Fiji, November 12, Autumn Nations Series
Ireland v Australia, November 19, Autumn Nations Series (substituted if the player successfully completes the Head Contact Process Coaching Intervention programme)
Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography
Live-wire Vodacom Bulls-Boks back to take on Connacht
As the rugby world braces itself for the third round of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship, the Vodacom Bulls get set to host a hungry Connacht team at Loftus Versfeld on Friday evening.
The hosts have made six changes to the team that narrowly emerged victorious last weekend against Edinburgh. Vodacom Bulls fans will be treated by the return of inform Springboks, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie and Sbu Nkosi. Arendse and Moodie, both of whom quickly became fan favorites at Loftus with their electric pace and insane steps, will be high on confidence after both made their Springbok debuts in the last few weeks, scoring three tries collectively. While Nkosi, no stranger to the Green and Gold but only having made one appearance for the Bulls thus far, will also be looking to win over the Loftus faithful.
Cornal Hendricks will partner David Kriel in the midfield, while Johan Goosen gets his first start in the ten jersey since returning from a long term injury that kept him out of the game for eleven months. The ever-industrious and busy Zac Burger retains his spot at scrumhalf.
The loose-trio gets a little shuffle as Marco van Staden starts at seven with Ruan Vermaak dropping out for this game and joining the Vodacom Bulls XV that face the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Captain Marcell Coetzee continues doing what he does best in the six jersey, with returning Springbok, Elrigh Louw, remaining in his ‘happy-place’ with the number eight on his back. Ruan Nortje and Walt Steenkamp have formed a formidable pairing in the engine room over the last season, and will continue their dominance for this game.
Francois Klopper earns a well-deserved start at tighthead, as Mornay Smith drops to the bench, with Johan Grobbelaar and Gerhard Steenekamp at hooker and loosehead respectively.
Jake White, BBCo Director of Rugby, is looking forward to the return of the Bulls-Boks, “It’s always nice having Springboks come back, especially when they are looking as good as Canan and Kurt-Lee. Sbu didn’t get a run out for the Boks but his confidence will still be high having been part of the group. I have no doubt that he is raring to go, and this is his chance.”
“Connacht is a dangerous team. We saw that in the last competition when they gave us a good smack in Galway. A lot has changed since then, and we know what we have to do this weekend.”
The game kicks off at 18h30, on Friday 30 September.
15 Kurt-Lee Arendse; 14 Canan Moodie; 13 Cornal Hendricks; 12 David Kriel; 11 Sbu Nkosi; 10 Johan Goosen; 9 Zak Burger; 8 Elrigh Louw; 7 Marco van Staden; 6 Marcel Coetzee; 5 Ruan Nortje; 4 Walt Steenkamp; 3 Francois Klopper; 2 Johan Grobbelaar; 1 Gerhard Steenekamp
16 Jan-Hendrik Wessels; 17 Simphiwe Matanzima; 18 Mornay Smith; 19 Janko Swanepoel; 20 Reinhardt Ludwig; 21 Embrose Papier; 22 Chris Smith; 23 Lionel Mapoe
POINTS OF INTEREST:
- Vodacom Bulls have lost just one of their last eight Vodacom United Rugby Championship matches, last season’s final to the DHL Stormers in Cape Town.
- Vodacom Bulls have won their last eight fixtures at Loftus Versfeld in the VURC since losing there 22-29 to the Cell C Sharks on 12 February.
- Vodacom Bulls have won their last three matches against Irish provinces since today opponents, Connacht, beat them 34-7 in Galway on 1 October 2021.
- Connacht’s only win in their last four BKT United Rugby Championship matches was 22-20 at home to Zebre on 1 May.
- The Irishmen have not won away from home since beating Emirates Lions in Johannesburg in April.
- Connacht have lost their last two matches against South African opponents whilst their record in South Africa is, won four, lost three.
- The two sides have met just once before with Connacht running out victors twelve months ago.
Vodacom Bulls XV to face Toyota Cheetahs
An exciting Vodacom Bulls XV, boasting a mix of Springbok experience and youthful exuberance, will make the long trip to Bloemfontein to take on the Toyota Cheetahs in the Toyota Challenge on Friday 29 September (a trip obviously made in the comfort of our Isuzus ).
The team that will be coached by Gert Smal, will be led by seasoned Springbok veterans Morne Steyn and Bismarck du Plessis as captain and deputy respectively.
Wandisile Simelane, who recently joined the Vodacom Bulls from across the Jukskei, starts in the fullback position where he will be looking to assert himself in his newfound position. The outside backs will be completed by the dangerous combination of Izzy Novuka and Stravino Jacobs. The latter having scored a sensational try last weekend against Edinburgh in the VURC.
Hard running Muller Uys will pack down at No8 with Phumzile Maqondwana and Raynhard Mouton flanking down on along either side of him. Bismarck du Plessis will anchor the scrum at hooker, with experienced campaigners in Jacques van Rooyen and Dylan Smith propping it up.
Smal is also rewarding Wiehan Bezuidenhout and Juan van der Westhuizen with opportunities after sterling performances in the Carlton Cup. Carlton Cup winning coaches Riaan Brandt and Christo Bezuidenhout from Centurion RC have also been invited to join the coaching team for this outing.
“We’re excited about the challenge, as it will give our structures and depth a real test. It’s a going to be a busy season ahead with a few competitions overlapping, so managing 2 games this Friday will give us a good indication of what to expect.” – Jake White, Director of Rugby, Blue Bulls Company
The game kicks off at 16h15, on Friday 30 September.
15 Wandisile Simelane; 14 Izzy Novuka; 13 Marco Jansen van Vuuren; 12 Chris Smit; 11 Stravino Jacobs; 10 Morne Steyn (Captain); 9 Bernard van der Linde; 8 Muller Uys; 7 Phumzile Maqondwana; 6 Raynhard Mouton; 5 Ruan Vermaak; 4 Merwe Olivier; 3 Jacques van Rooyen; 2 Bismarck du Plessis; 1 Dylan Smith
16 Joe van Zyl; 17 Wiehan Bezuidenhout; 18 Mhleli Dlamini; 19 Juan van der Westhuizen; 20 Abulele Ndabambi; 21 Keagan Johannes; 22 Juan Mostert; 23 FC du Plessis
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